Roskruge put Pima County on the map–literally

By Tom Prezelski

Anyone who has worked in, with, or around county government has probably noticed a particularly elegant old map of Pima County dating from 1893 that hangs in many offices. Originally over two feet wide and nearly five feet long, it is the first official map of the county as a whole. It is credited to George James Roskruge, who drew and “compiled” the map largely from decades of surveys that he had conducted.

A native of Cornwall, England, George Roskruge arrived in Arizona Territory in 1872. He took on odd jobs for the Deputy U.S. Surveyor for the territory and, through apprenticeship, became qualified as a surveyor and civil engineer.

Roskruge eventually served as Pima County Surveyor (an elected office back then) and held various appointed federal and territorial positions. Active in local politics, he also was instrumental in the early organization of what became the Tucson Unified School District and served on the Board of Regents for the University of Arizona. His name is immortalized in the name of a local school and his image stares at westbound drivers as they approach the Broadway Underpass.

To say that Roskruge was proud of his professional accomplishments might be an understatement. His personal stationery listed an almost complete resume along the side. In an 1887 incident when he was mistakenly detained by Mexican authorities who accused him of operating on the wrong side of the international line, Roskruge seemed more concerned about the affront to his competence as a surveyor than the potential threat to life, property and national sovereignty.

With regard to the map, a lot of change happened in 124 years and there are a few things that may be particularly jarring to the modern viewer. One is that Pima County included Nogales, as Santa Cruz County would not be organized until 1899. Another is the absence of the bulk of what we now know as the Tohono O’odham Reservation, though what is now known as the San Xavier Reservation is clearly marked as the “Papago Indian Reservation.”

Though most of the reservation was not yet organized, the area was hardly unsettled. Roskruge was familiar with the country through his surveys and his work on irrigation projects for the Indian Agency, and he not only showed the marginal but strangely persistent mining camps like Quijotoa and Gunsight, but also the major Tohono O’odham communities, which are signified by clusters of what seem to be cartoon huts, alluding to the scattered nature of traditional villages.

Also not on the map are the suburban communities which are familiar to us today. Places like Green Valley, Marana and Sahuarita would not be developed for several decades. Tucson, then home to almost all of the county’s population, dominates the map, with numerous small farming, ranching, and mining communities signified by tiny squares.

Roskruge seems to have indulged in his mapmaker’s prerogative to name various locations after his friends. Not all of these survive. In the Rincon Mountains, for example, he named three peaks after early Pima County notables: De Long Peak, Mount Ochoa and Mount Oury. Modern maps call these Spud Rock, Mica Mountain and Rincon Peak, respectively.

Samaniego Peak in the Sierrita Mountains still bears the name of Pima County’s first Assessor. Wolfley Hill, in a remote part of what is now the Tohono O’odham Reservation, immortalizes a fellow engineer who became Territorial Governor. Roskruge would soon enter into a feud with Wolfley, so perhaps he would come to regret using his name.

Never particularly humble, Roskruge named a minor range of mountains on the western edge of Avra Valley for himself. He dubbed a pair of buttes there after his friend and ally Sam Hughes, though modern maps give these an older descriptive name of “Dos Tetas.”

Roskruge’s map dates from a time when mapmaking was transitioning from a largely artful endeavor to something more prosaic and practical, and still bears some of the flourishes of a previous era. The beauty of the map as an artifact is the chief reason why so many people have it in their offices. But beyond this, it is worth at least a second look for all the stories it has to tell.


Pima County FYI is featuring a monthly column on some of the history behind the people and places of Pima County, written by Tom Prezelski. Prezelski is a Tucson native and former member of the Arizona House of Representatives. His first book, Californio Lancers: The 1st Battalion of Native Cavalry in the Far West was a finalist for the 2016 Latino Book Awards.


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